With the highly successful New York Cider Week and uncharacteristically warm Thanksgiving behind us, many in the Tri State area are ready for December’s festivities and colder climes. And whether we get that weather or not, Christmas and New Year celebrations evoke visions of new spins on traditional wintery drinks like spicy mulled cider, cider cocktails, snakebites (craft lager mixed with hard cider) and wassail.
Although craft beer’s growth in the U.S. has risen faster than the head on a glass of Guinness, no cider scene is expanding faster than New York’s.
With a growing number of cider pubs and cider-centric restaurants, Americans now have the ability to taste a wide range of ciders at one time-at one place. Some notable local spots are: The Hearth on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, carries over 15 varieties of cider. The Queen’s Kickshaw in Astoria, is a ciderlicious labor of love from husband and wife team, Ben Sandler and Jennifer Lim. Their sister restaurant, Wassail also on the Lower East Side, features dishes cooked with cider, apples, pears, or apple or pear-based spirits. The Owl Farm in Brooklyn, offers 28 rotating draft lines and an extensive selection of cider based spirits. The West Village’s Tertulia, lets customers choose from the impressive array of ciders displayed overhead, and Finger Lakes Cider House in Central New York focuses on local producers offering distinct, complex ciders from farm-based orchards.
While still a small market compared to Europe, U.S. cider sales have soared to well over 35 million gallons. Even giants Anheuser-Busch, Miller Coors and the Boston Beer Company (maker of Samuel Adams) are introducing cider brands of their own. Industry researchers project continued growth partly because cider attracts a younger, more affluent consumer. For some, cider has become a beer alternative. It’s even been pulling in wine drinkers. Foodservice analysts claim the beverage’s comeback has also been bolstered by people with gluten allergies and by female drinkers who prefer the taste of cider to the taste of beer.
Interestingly, the word “CIDER” means fermented apple juice, just as “WINE” means fermented grape juice. Real cider is not brewed but made by pressing apples into juice, then letting the liquid ferment into alcohol – similar to making wine. Each style reflects the terroir the apples grew in and, like wine, production takes time and patience. As such, many cider aficionados insist that the best vessel to appreciate the nuances of a good craft cider is a proper wine glass with a large bowl to release its aromatic compound, and a smaller opening to funnel those aromas upward. People often chill it but serious cider should be tasted at about 60° Fahrenheit.
So is this the time to add cider to your bar and food menu?
Says Jennifer Lim, “Wassail has become a destination for people interested in exploring new cider tastes and styles along with food that best complements it. One of our most prized is Malus Baccata made from hand-foraged crab apples and costing $300.00 for a 500ml bottle.” With ciders like that, it’s not inconceivable that cider could soon become the new, New Year’s Eve toast.